By Mike McCombs
Nobody said more by saying less.
That’s a common sentiment among those remembering longtime Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray, who died Saturday, Nov. 5, at Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville. He was 82.
The Town of Port Royal confirmed the reserved Murray’s passing on its Facebook page Sunday evening.
“We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of former Port Royal Mayor, Sam Murray,” the post read. “Mr. Murray served the Town of Port Royal for 41 years & will be greatly missed. Sending all of our love & prayers to his family & friends at this time.”
A retired educator, Murray was on the Port Royal Town Council for 17 years before serving six terms as Mayor, from 1995-2019.
Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis worked for Murray for two decades. Willis said the two worked extremely well together.
“I got here in 2002. I was still relatively young and he’d been on council for some time. I looked to him significantly for advice though the years,” Willis said. “He was very calm and very hard to anger. We were basically opposites, but he would impart his wisdom on me. I’ve tried to incorporate the things I learned from him into how I do things.”
And Willis was familiar with Murray’s calm, thoughtful demeanor.
“When he did speak,” Willis said, “it meant more than most.”
Billy Keyserling met Murray when he moved back to Beaufort in 1989, and said the two always supported each other. Murray made an impact on the longtime Beaufort Mayor.
“Gentle. Polite. But when he made up his mind, he was determined and was able to very gently navigate his council or the public,” Keyserling said. “I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice or say anything negative or derisive about another person. And I don’t really know anyone who didn’t like Sam.”
In his time serving Port Royal, the town grew from roughly 1,500 in population to something 10 times that size. He oversaw the building of a new Town Hall, police station, fire station and much more.
“He navigated that without too many bumps in the road,” Keyserling said. “Once the county, city and Port Royal set their sites on how they were going to grow, they did it. He’s had strong town managers and he supported them as much as they supported him.
“He never appeared to be ambitious, but he knew where he was going, and that gave him the opportunity to serve. He saw the world the way it was and made the best of it and put his heart into doing it.”
Born in Dorchester County, Murray received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from South Carolina State University with graduate studies at The Citadel, the University of South Carolina, Appalachian State, and Harvard.
His first career was as an educator. He taught school in the Beaufort County School System for 16 years and was an elementary school principal for 20 years.
He won the CIVITAS Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence presented by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. A Mason and a Shriner, Murray chaired the Beaufort County Board of Special Needs and volunteered to build homes for Habitat for Humanity.
Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray always considered Sam Murray a friend.
“He had this calm, thoughtful demeanor about him, something I always really admire but not really one of my strengths,” Stephen Murray said. He served his community. He was an educated public official, who embodied the best of a public servant. His passing is a bog loss to the Lowcounty and a reminder the younger guys are going to have to step up.”
Earlier this year, Murray received the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor. The award, per the Governor’s website, is “awarded to South Carolinians who demonstrate extraordinary lifetime achievement, service and contributions of national or statewide significance.”
He was nominated for the award by Town of Port Royal Mayor Joe DeVito and town staff, and State Representative Shannon Erickson gave him the award on June 18.
“I’m going to miss the heck out of Sam Murray,” Erickson said. “When Kendall and I first moved to Beaufort, we lived in an apartment on Southside Drive. He was, literally, the first person I met in Beaufort, in a park in Port Royal.
“He never, ever forgot, and he always claimed me. He advised me and advised me well. He had no ulterior motives except to serve the community. I’m truly going to miss his counsel and his insight and his advice and his memory.”
Murray sought and was elected for one final term as Mayor in 2015 with the intent of seeing the sale of the Port of Port Royal through. He did not run for re-election.
“We’re not going to see many more like him” Keyserling said. “This is a very difficult environment for that kind of public servant. People would rather be contentious than cooperate.”
Murray is survived by his wife Charlotte Murray.
There will be a public viewing from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 at Marshel’s Wright-Donaldson Home For Funerals at 1814 Greene Street in Beaufort.
Services will be at 3 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, at Bethesda Christian Fellowship, 36 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, on St. Helena Island. Burial will follow in the Church Cemetery. There will be no viewing after the eulogy.
Services will be live streamed via the Bethesda Christian Fellowship’s Facebook page.
Mike McCombs is the Editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.